Monday, March 31, 2014

Discussing Citizenship, Part II
Kung nalilito kayo sa aking pagiging Canadian, mas malilito kayo sa magulang ko.
[If you find my hyphenated Filipino-Canadian identity confusing, my parents might confound you more.]

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: Recalling events which happened 7 years ago, 
                       plus, philosophizing a great deal. 
Previous Post: Dear Expat, Whitey, or Balikbayan: Be careful what you say!

Before I went on this Philippine trip of mine, I was wary of hyphenating my identity0; I was afraid to proclaim outright that I have become Filipino-Canadian, even though I had been holding the Canadian passport for most of the decade that I had been gone from my birthplace1. Being that I am 100% Filipino by birth, there is a lot of pressure to never forget those roots. Indeed, that is why I made such a huge point about the subject in here and here. It took the better part of my honeymoon period to realize that a large part of me has changed so much after a decade of living outside of the Philippines that it just wouldn't be fair to call myself as only Filipino anymore.

For us children of immigrants, such confusion is actually not all that uncommon. Generation 1.5 kids like me are especially easily misled into believing that we can still cope, tolerate, perhaps even fully live and exist in our birth country despite having been gone for so long. Bonus points if you live in a multi-culti place like Canada, where almost everyone is practically an immigrant and having foreign ties can actually sometimes be considered as a currency of coolness. In here, a hyphenated identity is almost encouraged.

On the other hand, in the Philippines, it is entirely possible for me to hear something like this, "Puro ka artehan ka pa sa ka ka 'identity identity' mo, e Pinoy na Pinoy ka parin na man! Anong tingin mo sa sarili mo? Isa sa kanila?"  [You're so full of shit with your 'identity' crap, when here you are, still all-Filipino. Who do you think you are? One of them? (ie. "White")].

What they don't realize that if there's any pretending going on, it is the opposite of what they assume - that I'm actually really pretending to be more Filipino than I really was. Part of the reason why I took my sweet time adjusting to the place was because I wanted to be really truly fully acclimatized when I embarked on any island-hopping trips throughout the archipelago.

I suppose I should be flattered that they thought I was still Filipino based on outward appearances and behaviour. It means my disguise worked: That I am indeed an adaptable backpacker who can travel incognito in the Philippines as one of them - rather than showing off how "foreign" I am.

Nonetheless, I only made it a point to "do as the Filipinos do in the Philippines" only after I discovered that walking around as a "Westerner"2  while looking like a Filipino presented some unique problems - as though a hyphenated Filipino-Canadian identity were a source of confusion to them.

So, if I was a source of confusion over there, I just wonder how much more confusing my parents would be to them?

Indeed, during this 2006-2007 Philippine trip of mine, everyone expected my parents to come back and/or retire to the Philippines some time in the near future. More than that, if everyone expected me to still have been the same Randy from 1997, then that expectation was even stronger for my parents.

And why not?


More than anyone, my parents themselves still have this personal view that they really are still Filipino through and through, despite all the time they've spent being Canadians in Canada. They still consistently view themselves as "tayong Pinoy" or "kaming Pinoy" ["Us Filipinos" or "We Filipinos"], opposite "silang mga Canadian" or "silang mga puti" ["those Canadians" or "those white people"], whenever the two cultures are being compared.

Indeed, they have such thick accents in English that if you ever meet them, there's very little doubt they're First gen immigrants who moved here as adults. In fact, not just adults, but middle aged immigrants! They not only grew up and finished post secondary education in the Philippines, but they also spent a large part of their adult lives over there. It is where they initially excelled professionally, as well as where they initially tried to raise a (or I guess I should say, "raise our") family.

Consequently, they have also kept more of the culture. Their beliefs, their life philosophies, their occasional superstitions, their diet, as well as how they view everything. ...are all still distinctly Pinoy.

And even if they do things that are of "Western"2 or multinational origins, they are things they've been doing since their youth. Like I've said elsewhere, I cannot stress enough that we were not straw hut dwelling, barefeet walking, simpleton Filipino yokels from the boondocks. They were already as westernized as any university educated, Filipino professional back in 1990's Philippines (when we left) could be.

For instance, my Dad still watches more NBA than NHL. When it's on TV, he'd even tune in to American NCAA basketball, because to him, it's enjoyable to see a game that is "Patayan talaga!" ["They are willing to die for a game!"]. Right now, he's reading a book I lent him about Philippine Basketball, as written by an American guy. 

He was also an avid tennis player that, although he has not had much time to play lately, he still follows all the big tennis tournaments on TV whenever he can. "Ganda ng palo!" ["What a beautiful stroke/swing/serve!"] he'd often remark, using adjectives only a Filipino tennis player would use.

As a car enthusiast, his preferences are still distinctly coloured by his Pinoy origins. He once owned a Jeep Cherokee here in Canada, but despised it so much that he went back to driving the Japanese brand names which he'd always driven back in his youth: Toyota and Mitsubishi. Ask him his most favourite dream vehicles and I bet that an 80 series Landcruiser would still feature prominently. To this day, they are still status symbols in the Philippines, and for my Dad, the name "Landcruiser" evokes emotions that are precursors to the adjectives of toughness and ruggedness, combined with luxury. Back when we were new here, we wondered where all the dual-cab, half-ton pick-ups were. They were all over Southeast Asia - why weren't they here? In our car guy conversations, he uses Pinoy vocabulary regularly: "Malakas humatak" [pulls strong], "Magandang managtag" [good suspension], "Malaki ang buweltahe" [large turning radius(?)]", "Masarap ang upo" [good/comfortable seating position].

Circa: Early 90's

In a similar fashion, my Mom kept her fascination with mystery books such as those penned by Agatha Christie, and TV shows like "Matlock", "Columbo", "Perry Mason" and "'Murder', She Wrote". In fact, along with watching shows like CBS' documentary series "48 Hour Mystery", she still watches the same "'Murder', She Wrote" episodes over and over.

When Roger Moore's Bond flicks are re-run on Cable TV, she also makes sure to watch them.

Her casual reading also reflects what she had been reading since her highschool and University days - Reader's Digest, Time Magazine, and Newsweek. She might grab Maclean's on a newsstand once in a while, but it's not her first choice.

Having moved here at such an advanced age, I guess perspectives, habits, preferences, and favourites just die hard. They basically are just older versions of themselves in the Philippines during the 90's, right before we moved here. Frankly, I'm sometimes hard-pressed to think of them as assimilated. There's almost a kind of stubbornness with the way they steadfastly cling to their identities.

Their network of friends and acquaintances here in Calgary are also mostly Filipinos - a fact that I think is quite telling.

Bottomline: My parents themselves claim to be Filipino. They certainly look and sound Filipino. And nearly everything they do is still distinctly Filipino - even when it comes to their consumption of "western" or multinational products.

But are they still TRULY Filipino?

Believe it or not, I actually believe that they are actually less Pinoy than I am. At least when it comes to keeping in touch with what's happening over there, back in the "motherland".

In the nearly two decades we've been here, my Dad has only been to the Philippines only once, and my Mom twice - all for family emergencies, and never exceeding two weeks at a time. I have in fact spent more time there ever since we moved to Canada. They would rather spend their vacation time touring Europe and the Mediterranean.

They also almost never do the one thing the Filipino Diaspora is renowned for throughout the world: Sending money back to the Philippines3, 4. What can I say: My family comes from a long line of badasses, ballers, and loaded and landed gentry. If anything, my family still living in the Philippines better be the ones sending us money in here.

Just kidding I wish!! Do you have any idea how the elite in there live? Like kings, yo!

But seriously, using common criteria of "Who is truly still a Filipino?", I honestly feel my parents would not pass.
Pasang awa lang sila dito... [They barely passed this 'test'...]

In large part, it has to do with how "analog" they still are.

Very rarely do they go on Facebook. They don't subscribe or stream Filipino TV (neither do I). And they are utterly uninterested in regular phone calls to the Philippines, let alone Skype-ing for any extended period with anyone from there. Whatever little time they spend online, it is most definitely not spent trawling for Philippines news.

Nowadays, my parents are so in tune with Calgarian politics because they only seem to mostly read the local rags. When having dinner, they also prefer local news. Consequently, whatever international news they get is through these local sources - sanitized and rewritten for the Calgarian perspective. As non-internet users, the news, the buzz, and the perspective they watch and read about, have been mostly tailored for Calgarian readers, Albertans secondary, then the national Canadian scene obviously comes third, and finally, the North American outlook is factored in last.

It's not much help that when they do read the previously mentioned weekly newsmagazines, or watch CNN and the BBC, they are still reading articles from and for a "westerner's point of view" - you don't get the Southeast Asian edition here.

From these sources, the Philippines only gets mentioned during large tragedies like the Bohol Earthquake, and of course, Typhoon Haiyan. A mass shooting in the US gets more airtime than the gunbattles and street fighting between Philippine Military forces and Muslim Separatists in the streets of Zamboanga that left hundreds dead. And even the newsworthy pieces that do get reported here are stripped down to the essentials, devoid of any of the fine detail that Filipino audiences might actually care to hear about.

In fact, my folks get most of their Philippine news from weekend lunches/brunches with me. Whenever that happens, it becomes very apparent that I know more about what's going on in the "motherland", even though I really only get exposed to such news due to social media and mere happenstance - so that's saying a lot about how little they truly know. Even though I'm not trying to read about the Philippines, I always end up doing so, thanks to how newsfeeds can deduce that I must have ties to the Philippines, all due to my Facebook friends list.

During the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, they (or we) were all surprised to hear that the Philippines had an entrant in figure skating. "Michael who?" we all remarked during the opening ceremonies.

Bottomline: My folks are so out of touch with the Philippines that really, the only place they know or think about living in now, is in Calgary5.  This is their City. Alberta is their province. And Canada is their country. This is their home now - and it has been for almost two decades. Everything about them spells out "aging baby boomer Canadians nearing retirement".

Drop them off in the Philippines and they wouldn't know how to cope. That is in fact what pretty much happens during their visits there. They are overly reliant on their friends and family to get around. Unlike my "blend in and travel incognito" style, they are unapologetic foreigners in the Philippines. And when they get back to Canada, they do nothing but complain. "Ay nako! Ubod ng Trapik!  Mabantot! Puro usok! Wala nang matinong balita sa diaro't TV! Puro patayan! Ta's ang gobierno, kurakot!  Ay sos!" [Oh my God! So much traffic! Stinks like hell! The air is full of pollution! And you can't get any good news from the papers and TV! Nothing but crime and murder! The government isn't much help - full of corruption! Holy crap, yo!]

In a strange, somewhat ironic, twist, I - as the kid who left when I was 15 - have more patience and understanding for that place.  I actually seem to have more nostalgia and other vague feelings of longing for the Philippines, yet I'm the one who owes it nothing.


Even as future retirees, they have actually explicitly said that they have no interest retiring there. They may have entertained such thoughts when we were new to Canada, but not anymore. Even the fact that their dollars can go a long way isn't enough justification. The Philippines is just some faraway place that they have no interest in visiting anymore. If anything, I'm the one who keeps telling them that they should at least have one honest vacation where they try to have fun over there (instead of merely attending family emergencies such as the sickness and death of a loved one, where stress and worry dominate). Might as well have one last good memory of the place before they grow too old to travel, I keep reminding them. Visit the beaches, the mountains, and all the touristy spots the same way I did. Form one last good memory of the place.

Vagrant taking a shit in Pasig river, near Jones Bridge
Photo by Carlos Celdran.

But it's so hard to compete when Europe is so much more orderly, they'll reason. They can much more directly take in old-world architecture over there without fear of street crime or stepping on some vagrant's poop. Mexico is just a few hours away with negligible time zone changes, so new world Spanish Colonialism is way more accessible there than having to go all the way to the Philippines. California and Hawaii are full of Filipinos anyway, so they can get their fill of a Filipino cultural atmosphere in a warm place without the chaos and dysfunction of Metro Manila.

I guess I can't really blame them.

Whatever youth they spent in the Philippines is from such a different era, that the Philippines as it is nowadays is totally unrelatable to them.

Don't get me wrong, they had great childhoods, adulthoods, and professional lives in the Philippines prior to moving here. It's just that... all of those are now in the past. The Philippines is a much different place nowadays that I almost suspect that they would rather preserve those memories than have it be tarnished by new (potentially negative) Philippine experiences. Whenever I tell them there's always hope for the "motherland", they dismiss it outright. "It's a basket case country", they'll say, echoing an Australian diplomat's private sentiments. I guess it's not hard to assume such a negative perspective when, during their late teens and early adulthood, the Philippines was on the rise. Unfortunately, by their assessments, every decade that followed since has been an utter disappointment.

I just warn them that should they ever pay the Philippines a visit, that they keep their negative opinions of it to themselves. You just never know how they'll take it...

Future Post: O sige, Tagalugin ko na para walang away...

Related Posts: Discussing Citizenship
                            Trials and Tribulations Though Talented in Talking Tagalog
                            The true utillity of Filipino Citizenship
                            Dear Expat, Whitey, or Balikbayan: Be Careful What you Say!

Further Reading: Half Filipinos, Joey De Leon, and Filipino Pride 
                                Secretary of Yangdon, Kalihim ng Yangdon:
                                Mabuting Palakad, Bayang Maunlad
                                ( This article is in Tagalog, Click Here for the English Version )

                            Jessica Sanchez and Racial Profiling,
                                by Joe America



0. Hyphenated identity = Like I said elsewhere, when Filipinos think up of a "Foreigner" or "Westerner", they imagine a white person. Once you Hyphenate, then you must be of mixed race. For me, I simply use it to shorthand "Philippine-born Canadian", or "a Canadian originally from the Philippines".

More than that, emphasizing my being Canadian all while still looking (and partially sounding) still oh-so Filipino makes me vulnerable to accusations of pretentiousness. Indeed, there is a type of Pinoy who does fake a foreign pedigree, simply because it is very cool to do so over there.

There is also a confusion about identity and blood/racial origins - blood is everything, and your choices and where you grew up/grew old does not seem to matter as much in their consideration of who is Filipino.

1. Birthplace = It takes three years to earn Canadian citizenship. If I am to be honest, it took me about five years to fully feel Canadian.

2. "Westerner" = That I put it in quotes is no accident: "Westerner", "Foreigner", and "Expat" have taken a unique meaning in the Philippines with all the baggage of East vs. West dichotomy, of experiences of oppression harking back to Colonial times (imagined or real), of concepts of core vs. periphery, and above all, of a deep seated insecurity which they try to mediate by judging everyone around them who is of foreign origins. 

As I said in another post:

"With over Ten Million people scattered throughout the world who identify themselves as part of the Filipino Diaspora, be they emigres, OFW (OCW), or even those engaged in international business dealings and even the occasional diplomat, almost everyone in the Philippines knows a Filipino from abroad. Because of this, many Filipinos in the Philippines have at one time or another played "babysitter" to visiting family, friends, and acquaintances from abroad.
Yes, "babysit", with all the accompanying baggage of the term - as in to handhold a clueless visitor who cannot exist in a country that is all about matira matibay ("only the strong survive"). It's a dog-eat-dog place and some people who actually take some sort of twisted pride in this label, subscribe to the notion that we "foreigners" as maselan or too fragile, picky, finicky, and would perhaps be unable to cope once left to our own devices in that oh-so confusing and dangerous nation of theirs!! Oh noes!"

3. Send money = Except of course for those aforementioned emergencies. No health care in the Philippines; everyone pitches in during medical emergencies. Point being: They are not supporting anyone's lifestyle over there by regularly sending money. They only do so when it is genuinely needed. Frankly, that sending money Pinoy habit confuses me.

4. Expect a future post about Immigrants vs. OFW/OCW or the Filipino Contract Workers here in Canada. For these hardworking people - dubbed as temporary foreign workers - there is always a sense of non-permanence.  I for one may associate with them as fellow Filipinos, but I can't fully relate to them. I consider them as heroes, but I can never do what they do. I honestly can't handle the uncertainties they face everyday. We as a family landed here with no intentions of going back. I am the only one who is foolish enough to entertain such notions in my family.

5. Calgary = Note how I mention specifically the CITY. More than the ideas of country, nation and whatever else requires non tangible philosophizing, there is the pure reality that where they have been living for the past 17 years has now become their home. It's where they have a house, it's where they have the most friends, it's where they shop and pursue entertainment. It's where they VOTE! I can't stress this enough: No matter how 'Filipino' they look, act, and sound like, they are 10,000km and Seventeen Years removed from the Philippines

Believe it or not, Canadians 'get' this more than Filipinos. Like I mentioned elsewhere, in the Philippines, blood and lineage is everything when it comes to labeling who is Filipino. Whereas Canada is indeed so multi-culti that no one bats and eye when I hyphenate. In the Philippines - and I sure hope I'm not yet beating a dead horse - this leaves me open to accusations of fakery and pretentiousness. Over here in Calgary, everyone just takes me for who I am.

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